Ilford Ltd's decision to sell cameras led to the development and production of arguably the finest British postwar camera, the Witness. Unlike the other main candidate for this claim, the Reid camera, the Witness was developed from scratch by two renowned camera designers and not copied from a pre-existing design. Commercially the Reid saw more success and it was a better-made camera but ultimately both cameras failed for the same reason - they could not compete against cheaper and more rounded foreign competitors.
The Witness camera was designed by two German-Jewish refugees who fled to Britain in the late 1930s. Robert Sternberg was an ex-Leitz employee and D. A. Rothschild was an ex-Zeiss employee. In 1947 Rothschild approached Ilford to finance and market a camera. This approach was timely and coincided with Ilford's decision to develop a range of cameras and Rothschild was to develop other cameras for Ilford.
Sternberg and Rothschild's design went through a series of unsuccessful prototypes and manufacture was finally put in the hands of a precision engineering company Peto Scott Electric Instruments Ltd of Weybridge. An initial order of 250 cameras was placed and produced. These were beset with production difficulties and Ilford decided to concentrate on the cheaper Advocate camera. The remaining parts were subsequently assembled and sold off to Dollonds. Total production is unlikely to have exceeded 350 cameras.
Todd has attempted a chronology of the camera. The first prototypes were made in 1946 and full production did not probably commence until 1951. Miniature Camera Magazine in April 1951 announced that 'limited distribution will begin in about a months time'. Full retail sale is unlikely to have commenced before Summer 1952 and had ceased by mid-1953. The cameras that were sold off to Dollands were remaindered at £80 each, against the Ilford price of £112, and Ilford refunded £40 to each of the earlier purchasers.
The camera was initially sold with a Dallmeyer Daron 5cm. f/2.9 lens with later cameras having a Dallmeyer Super-Six 2 inch f/1.9 lens. The camera was superior in its basic specification over contemporary screw-fit Leica cameras but ultimately its was not as reliable or as well built and was limited by a lack of accessories and lenses and a cost price of £112 making it the most expensive British camera.